Verbs never used in a Continuous tense

When teaching my students the difference between the Present Simple and the Present Continuous, there’s always a moment when I need to tell them that State Verbs are never used in a Continuous tense, but what are and which are State Verbs?

The easiest way to distinguish between state (or non-progressive) verbs is to check the meaning of the verb/sentence. State verbs refer to unalterable conditions, whereas action verbs refer to processes. Compare these sentences:

  • She is tall. (Can that be changed?)
  • She plays the piano. (She can stop playing the piano and start a new process).

Among state verbs we have different subcategories:

Stative: be, seem, appear

Possession: have, belong to, own, contain

Thinking: believe, think, consider, doubt, agree, concern, imagine, impress, mean, understand

Emotions: like, love, hate, dislike, matter, mind, want, wish

Verbs that belong to these groups will never be used in a continuous tense as they cannot be used to describe a process. If you are not sure about a verb, a good tip is to ask yourself “Can I be in the middle of _______ (having a car, believing in God, loving my parents)?” If the answer is negative, then you have a state verb!

You can find several lists in the Internet but you have to be careful with these because sometimes a verb can be used as a state and an action verb because it has more than one meaning. The clearest example is “have”, which can mean “possess” or “take”. For instance,

  • I have a beautiful picture of a British landscape in the living room.
  • I have cereal and milk for breakfast.

The first example is a state verb, whereas the second is an action verb. Therefore, it can be used both in continuous and simple tenses.

Other verbs like “have” are “think”, “be” or “consider”. Can you guess their two meanings?

Let me lend you a hand:

  • I think/consider this is a good idea (I have an opinion)
  • I am thinking/considering about buying a new car (I am making a list of positive and negatvie points before maing a decision)
  • I am a shy (this is an unalterable characteristic)
  • The kid is being very spoilt today (he is behaving in a strange manner)

You can download this information in PDF format.

Verb tenses chart

The English verb system is not particularly difficult, specially if compared to other languages. However, it may pose some problems to students. For those who need a short walkthourgh this post may be very handy

It does not aim to offer a detailed explanaition of all verb tenses in English, simply a short summary of each of them with its form, usage and most frequent time clauses.

Present simple

1
Present simple form in positive, negative and interrogatove forms. Notice the final “-s” in the positive form and the different auxiliary form that find for the third person singular subjects (he, she, it)

Uses:

  • Actions which are always true. Always used with state verbs.
  • Habits.
  • Accompanied by frequency adverbs (always, usually, frequently, normally, often, occasionally, sometimes, hardly ever, rarely, seldom, never)

Past simple regular

2
Past simple for for positive, negative and interrogative forms for regular verbs. Notice that the final “-s” we had in the present simple has disappeared and that we only have one single for all subjects.

Uses:

  • Actions in finished in the past.
  • Accompanied by: last week, three months ago, when I was born,…

Past simple irregular

3
Each irregular verb has its unique form. You will need an irregular verb list to learn which one you need.

Present continuous

4
To form the present continuous, we need the auxiliary verb “to be” and the gerund of the main verb.

Uses:

  • Actions in progress.
  • Actions taking place now.
  • Accompanied by: now, right now, at the moment, today, this week,…

Past continuous

5
As with the present continuous, we need the verb “to be”, but this time, in the past.

Uses:

  • Actions in progress in a given moment in times.
  • Background actions taking place when something else happened.
  • Introduced by: while, as, when,…

Present perfect

6
For the present perfect, we need the auxiliary verb “to have” and the past participle of the main verb. Be careful because some verbs have an irregular past participle form.

Uses:

  • Past action which is connected to the present.
  • News.
  • Action which started in the past and has not finished yet.
  • Accompanied by already, yet, just and clauses introduced by for, since.

Past perfect

7
To form the past perfect tense, you need the auxiliary verb “to have”, in the past, and the past participle of the main form. Remember to check whether the verb is refular or not!

Uses:

  • Past action which is connected to another past time.
  • Accompanied by already, yet, just and clauses introduced by for, since.

Present perfect continuous

8
As this tense is a combination of perfect and continuous tense, we need both the auxiliary verb “to have” and the auxiliary verb “to be”. The first one in the present simple form and the second one in the past participle form. After the auxiliaries, we need the gerund of the main verb.

Uses:

  • Past action which is connected to the present.
  • Action which started in the past and has not finished yet.
  • The emphasis is on the duration of the action.
  • Accompanied by already, yet, just and clauses introduced by for, since.

Past perfect continuous

9
Again, we are combining perfect and continuous modes, so we need the auxiliary “to have” in the past and the auxiliary “to be” in the past perfect form. After them, we need the gerund.

Uses:

  • Past action which is connected to another past time.
  • The emphasis is on the duration of the action.
  • Accompanied by already, yet, just and clauses introduced by for, since.

Future simple

10
To form the future simple tense, we need the modal verb “will” followed by an infinitive without “to”.

Uses:

  • Action which will take place in a future moment.

Future Continuous

11
As a continuous tense, the future continuous needs the future form of the verb “to be”. In other words “will be”. After that, you will need the gerund of the main verb.

Uses:

  • Action which will be in progress at a future moment.

Future Perfect

12
The future perfect needs the modal verb “will” and the auxiliary verb “to have” in the infinitive form without “to”, followed by the main verb in the past perfect form.

Uses:

  • Action will be finished at a certain time in the future.
  • Accompanied by time clauses introduced by “by”.